Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus with over 100 different types that affect different parts of the body, including the genital area of males and females.
Infection with genital HPV could be considered a normal part of being sexually active. Only a few of HPV types are considered high risk and are linked to cervical cancer.
HPV is not HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) as they are totally different infections.
How HPV is spread
Genital HPV is spread by direct genital skin-to-skin contact during all types of sex with a person who has the virus. As viruses are microscopic, HPV can pass through tiny breaks in the skin so using condoms or other barrier methods does not prevent transmission. HPV is not spread in blood or other body fluids.
HPV is so common that four out of five people who have ever had sexual contact will have had HPV at some time in their lives and never know it. You may become aware of HPV if you have an abnormal Pap test result, or if genital warts appear.
HPV link to cervical cancer
Some HPV types have been linked with causing abnormalities of the cervix and, in some cases, the development of cervical cancer. Most women who have HPV clear the virus naturally and do not go on to develop cervical cancer.
If you have early cell changes due to HPV, it is likely that these changes will clear up naturally in about 8 to 14 months. In rare cases, when the infection is not cleared and is not detected it can progress to cancer.
Pap tests are still needed if you have received the HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine will not prevent all cervical cancers. Therefore, Pap tests are still recommended for women who have received the vaccine.
The ACT Cervical Screening Program currently recommends that all women should have their first screening test two years after commencing sexual activity (this includes female to male and female to female sex) or at the age of 20, whichever comes later. Cervical screening (Pap) tests should then be continued every two years until the age of 70, unless otherwise advised by their health practitioner.
In late 2017 a new more accurate Cervical Screening Test will replace the current Pap test. The new Cervical Screening Test is for women aged 25 to 74 years.
Until the changes come into effect, DO NOT delay having your regular Pap test. Call your health practitioner to book a Pap test today if you are due or overdue.
To find out more about the new Cervical Screening Test, including brief information about the changes, talk to your doctor or nurse or visit the National Cervical Screening Program website.
Treatment for HPV
There is no known cure for HPV. In most cases, the virus may be cleared by the body’s own immune system. However, the effects of the virus, such as any warts that appear, or changes to the cells of the cervix, can be treated.
If cell changes are found during a Pap test, further tests are usually done depending on the type of change. This may include more frequent Pap tests until these cells return to normal. If the changes continue, further tests and treatment may be needed.
Read more about Pap test results.
Prevention of HPV
Two HPV vaccines are currently on the market: Gardasil and Cervarix. Both vaccines help to protect against the two HPV types that cause 70% of cervical cancers. Gardasil also helps to protect against the two HPV types that cause 90% of genital warts.
HPV vaccination is most effective when given before initial exposure to HPV. As HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, it is recommended males and females be vaccinated before becoming sexually active.
The two HPV vaccines will not prevent all cervical cancers. Therefore Cervical Screening Tests are still recommended for women who have received the vaccine.
HPV Vaccination School-based program
Gardasil is available free in schools as part of the National Immunisation Program for males and females, aged 12-13 years (ongoing program).
More information on HPV is available on the following websites: